Stephen Merchant celebrates the writing partnership of Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, the ground-breaking duo who brought social realism to British comedy and helped lay the foundations for modern day classics like The Office, Peep Show and The Thick Of It.
After meeting at death's door in a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1949, the pair started writing for the hospital's radio station and within two years they were writing for the UK's top comic talent. In a move that changed comedy forever, the pair insisted that comedy should not be interrupted by howling crooners, whistling hillbillies or harmonica players, but instead should reflect life as it is. The show they created, Hancock's Half Hour, was so popular that pubs and shops complained that it was causing them to lose business.
They followed up Hancock's Half Hour with Steptoe And Son, a show that was so popular that it received 28 million viewers and Harold Wilson asked it to be rescheduled so that Labour voters wouldn't miss out on voting in the election to watch it! The series was not without controversy: third episode The Piano provoked complaints from Mary Whitehouse and even lead to questions being asked in the House of Commons.
As well as their most high profile series, Hancock and Steptoe, the pair wrote for a who's who of comedy including Frankie Howerd, Peter Sellers, Arthur Lowe, Warren Mitchell and Les Dawson.
Whilst the pair effectively disbanded in 1978, when Alan Simpson went on a "year-long break", their work is still immensely important and performed around the world today - a fact that you can see and hear reflected in every aspect of modern comedy. It is an everlasting testament to the quality of the 600+ scripts they wrote for radio, television and cinema.
As well as hearing from the writers themselves, contributors to the documentary include David Mitchell, Ben Elton, Denis Norden and Damaris Hayman. Archive interviewees include Tony Hancock, Sid James and Harry H Corbett.
It first broadcast on Radio 2 in 2009.
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